April 7, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - After two weeks of spring ball and seven practices, the Saluki football team held its first live scrimmage on Saturday. The defense dominated, forcing seven turnovers, although the offense flashed big play ability from wide receiver David Lewis and running back Mika'il McCall.
Cornerback Courtney Richmond had two of the defense's four interceptions. The unit also forced three fumbles, while allowing only one touchdown drive on the morning.
"When you're a pressure defense like we are, you're going to give up some plays, but you want to make some big plays," said defensive coordinator Bubba Schweigert. "That was an issue for us last year -- the number of turnovers. We did a good job of getting our hands on balls and catching them today."
The Saluki defense averaged 2.0 turnovers per game a season ago, but in addition to Richmond, they had picks today by Cortland Dunlap and Elroy Douglas, plus fumble recoveries by Luke Thuston and Houston Walker.
Schweigert said tackling has been a point of emphasis this spring.
"More than ever, we've really worked hard on tackling drills," he said. "We've tried to create live, competitive tackle situations against the offense in practice, and hopefully that pays off for us."
Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer called his unit's performance "disappointing."
"We didn't give ourselves a chance," he said. "The turnovers you just can't have. We were really good last year in that department, and we stress it, but today was a reality check."
The team's starting quarterback, Kory Faulkner, completed 4-of-9 passes for 33 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown strike to Lewis during Red Zone drills. Lewis, a 6-foot-3, 223-pound senior, is emerging this spring as one of the team's top receiving threats.
"He's a guy we have to find a way to get the ball to him," DeBoer said. "Physically, he's pretty impressive. We've moved him to the X position, which is where you put your featured receiver, and he's been very consistent."
The only sustained drive of the day came behind freshman signal caller Matt Vincent, who tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Chris Marshall, capping a seven-play 70-yard drive. Vincent was 6-of-8 passing for 97 yards.
DeBoer said the goal was to give all four quarterbacks equal reps, and that may have contributed to a lack of cohesiveness among the passers.
"It's hard to get continuity when you're rotating in once every four series," he said. "We'll take it for what it's worth -- we're very disappointed -- but it's one practice in spring ball."
The offense had mixed results from its running game. McCall busted off the scrimmage's longest run with a 22-yard carry in which he broke numerous tackles. The Iowa transfer had 28 yards on six carries, including a three-yard TD run in goal line work.
"That's a position group we feel good about," DeBoer said. "They've made a lot of plays throughout the first seven practices."
The team will scrimmage again on Friday morning, before wrapping up spring ball with the Spring Scrimmage at 7 p.m. on April 20.